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By Roz Rogoff

Mayoral musical chairs

Uploaded: Aug 21, 2011

There are two City elections in the Tri-Valley this year that feature termed-out Mayors changing chairs. San Ramon Mayor H. Abram Wilson and Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena are both running for their City's Council seats because of maxed-out term limits on their Mayor's chair.

San Ramon voters passed Measure K, for the Direct Election of the Mayor, in 2001. The measure also limited the elected Mayor to four, two-year terms. H. Abram Wilson was the first and so far the only elected Mayor of San Ramon. Prior Mayors were appointed from the Council for one-year terms by a vote of the five Councilmembers.

This year Wilson filed to run for City Council since he cannot run again for Mayor. I interviewed him on Friday afternoon at the new Police Station building on Crow Canyon Road. Wilson's popularity isn't as high as it was in years past, so I asked him if the Council is out of touch with residents now.

Wilson said "the ones out of touch are the vocal minority," which he doesn't take very seriously. "Talk to anyone in San Ramon and they will tell you I'm accessible. They will talk to me in Safeway or Costco," he said.

I asked why he is running for City Council after being Mayor and how it could affect his political future if he lost. Wilson ran twice as the Republican candidate for State Assembly and lost. Wilson said he is not doing this for political gain but to maintain consistency on the City Council. "This isn't the time for amateurs," he said.

He described how San Ramon partners with Pleasanton, Livermore, and other neighboring cities to procure Federal funding for different projects by hiring one lobbyist for the entire Tri-Valley. "This is how we got $2M for the communications system," he explained, referring to the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority (EBRCSA), which links together all emergency responders in the East Bay except Oakland. "It's taken this long for me to work with other Mayors in the area. You can't do that overnight."

I asked him if he could accept the role of Councilmember after being Mayor for so long. He said he won't try to take over if elected to the City Council. "It will give me time to concentrate on endeavors that will help the City." He wants to focus on the downtown, legislation to help the City, and getting Dave Hudson onto ABAG and MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission).

I asked Wilson about Phil O'Loane, his principle outside opponent in the City Council race and why he didn't vote to reappoint Phil to the Planning Commission. Wilson told me he wanted to reappoint Phil, but Phil's interview for reappointment was the worst of the four applicants. "Someone who was Chair (O'Loane was Chair of the Planning Commission when he reapplied) should have knocked that (interview) out of the park."

I attended the interviews and it's true that Phil did not do as well in the interviews as the other candidates. I felt that the Planning Commission should be kept intact and the appointment shouldn't be based on the interview alone. Abram felt it wouldn't be fair to the others who came out for the interviews not to consider their interviews in making the decision. "It's not an old boy-old girl or anything like that," he said.

He's voted for people he disagrees with as long as they are doing a good job for the City. He voted to appoint Jim Blickenstaff to the General Plan Commission because he wanted diversity on the Commission. "If they are doing their jobs, they don't have to agree with me or like me, if I think they are the best candidate for the job."

"I value Phil as a person and business friendship," Wilson said, but he questioned Phil's knowledge of the planning requirements set by Sacramento. Wilson said he doesn't like the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan, ". . . but unless we have a plan we wouldn't get the money," from Sacramento. Wilson couldn't accept that Phil, as Chair of the Planning Commission, didn't understand that we needed this plan to apply for funding. "It was very difficult for me to vote against someone I supported at the beginning and unseat an incumbent," he explained.

I asked Wilson if he and Carol Rowley arranged to "swap seats," which Carol firmly denies, but she originally said she wasn't interested in running for Mayor. "People have a right to change their mind," he said about Carol's change of mind. "I respect her so much. You wouldn't want a politician who would never change their mind."

Wilson defended the performance of the current City Council, "If it's not broken, why are they trying to fix it in an environment like this?" He pointed out that San Ramon is the only city in the East Bay where property values have gone up and businesses are moving into Bishop Ranch. "We are the envy of so many cities around here," he declared.

Wilson, along with the other two Council candidates, Phil O'Loane and Scott Perkins, signed the voluntary pledge to keep his campaign expenses under $42,368. Wilson said that millions of dollars were spent against him in his last Assembly race. "That was the most expensive (Assembly) campaign in California history," he told me.